Concert of Music from Poland
with World Premiere of Concerto in E minor by Konrad Binienda
David Bard-Schwarz with Ania Bard-Schwarz
Last Friday, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending “An Evening of Music from Poland” under the auspices of the Fryderyk Chopin Society of Texas headed by its Founder and President Nina Drath. The concert featured the Irving Symphony Orchestra under the baton of its Music Director Hector Guzman and two soloists—pianist Konrad Binienda and violinist Hubert Pralitz. The performance took place at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Arlington, Texas.
Special guests included Ewa Pietrasieńska, Vice-Consul of the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Houston; Halina Koralewska, representing the Polish American Congress, Long Island, New York; Leszek Pawlik, President of the Coalition of Polish Americans, Los Angeles, California; and members and friends of the Polish and Polish-American community from Austin, San Antonio, and the DFW metroplex.
The program opened with a chamber-sized Irving Symphony Orchestra directed by Maestro Guzman and Dr. Konrad Binienda performing Fryderyk Chopin’s Allegro de Concert Opus 46. Dr. Binienda received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music and holds a joint graduate degree from Harvard / New England Conservatory of Music. He studied with such formidable piano soloists and professors as: Haeson Paik, Sergei Babayan, Gerardo Teissonnière, Phillipe Giusiano, Wojciech Switala, and Viktor Mierzhanov. Konrad Binienda’s albums include “Peaks of Piano” with an all-Chopin repertoire (2018), and most recently “Works by Chopin and Binienda” (2021/2022).
The Allegro de Concert has a curious history. It seems that Chopin sketched the work in the 1830’s perhaps intending it to be the opening movement of a new piano concerto that never came into being. Instead, it remained a piece for solo piano published in 1841. Several pianists/composers since then have arranged the work for piano and orchestra, including Binienda who performed his own orchestration of the work last night. Dr. Binienda’s orchestration was premiered and recorded in Lodz, Poland in 2019 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London under the baton of Maestro Grzegorz Nowak.
I was impressed with the musicality, skill, and artistry not only of Konrad Binienda’s piano playing but his orchestration as well. In true allegiance to the aesthetic of Chopin, the orchestra’s role in relation to the soloist is similar to that of a setting to a jewel in a ring. The orchestra is there to enhance, to showcase, and to converse in a respectful dialogue with the soloist. Binienda performed his part with delicacy, expertise, tact, and utmost musicality.
Maestro Guzman directed the Irving Symphony in a perfectly poised and precise accompaniment.
Next on the program was the Legende Opus 17 by Henryk Wieniawski for Violin and Orchestra featuring violinist Hubert Pralitz. Mr. Pralitz attended the Stanisław Moniuszko Music School of Sopot, the Fryderyk Chopin Music College of Wrzeszcz, the Conservatoire National Sepérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, and the University Mozarteum Salzburg, Austria. He won a silver medal at the Henryk Wieniawski and Karol Lipinski Junior Violin Competition in Lublin, Poland, and the Michelangelo Abbado International Competition in Como, Italy. Mr. Pralitz’s teachers include such violin virtuosos and teachers as: Henryk Szeryng, Zino Francescatti, Sándor Végh, Jean Fournier, Gérard Poulet, Herman Kienzl, and Stefan Herman. Mr. Pralitz is a recipient of the Knights Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, presented to him by Polish President Andrzej Duda.
Before their performance, Mr. Pralitz shared with us the story of the Legende. The young Wieniawski had sought the hand in marriage of a young woman whose father at first refused, fearing that the life of a musician might not offer his daughter sufficient security. Upon hearing Wieniawski perform the piece, he changed his mind. The couple was married in 1860 and lived happily together until Wieniawski’s untimely passing in 1880; Isabella Hampton Wieniawska lived until the age of 91 (1928). As a violinist, Pralitz has a commanding presence and is able to draw the listener deeply into his world of imagination. He performed the work with exquisite tenderness and emotional energies that ranged from the amorous to the resigned, to the heroic.
Following the Legende, Hubert Pralitz and the Irving Symphony performed a pearl of violin repertoire, Henryk Wieniawski’s Polonaise de Concert Opus 4. The polonaise (in French, in Polish polonez)— a stately national dance of Poland—has a characteristic rhythm in ternary meter. In Polish tradition, polonez was often danced at marriage ceremonies. Wieniawski’s work is saturated with polonaise-like rhythms and embodies virtuoso violin passagework of an extraordinary challenging and expressive nature. Wieniawski began to sketch the work at age 13 in 1848 and the piece was first published in 1853. As a landmark work in the violin repertoire, it is featured in the upcoming 16th Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Competition in Poznań, Poland, October 7–21, 2022. The soloist performed the work with masterful panache and an utterly engaging mastery and magnetic energy.
After an intermission, we heard the premiere of Dr. Konrad Binienda’s own Concerto No. 1 in e-minor for piano and orchestra. What a pleasure to behold. It is seldom indeed that one hears a brand-new piano concerto that is evocative of its cultural heritage and fresh and engaging in a new way—all at the same time. Such was my impression of Binienda’s concerto. To my ears, the work contained textures and techniques evocative of Chopin and Schumann. For example, Binienda often expanded on his simple, beautiful, and folk-like melodies with a statement, transposed counter-statement, and then departure (sometimes thought of as a “1”, “2”, and “away” gesture). So much music of the common practice era does precisely that, and it was very suggestive of Chopin and Schumann when the writing is moderately virtuosic so the folklike beauty and simplicity of the music shine through. And then of course the music passes to the orchestra in a collegial and respectful dialogue—exactly evocative of the orchestral/solo writing of Chopin. I found the cadence at the end of the first movement particularly beautiful—a subtle form of “Amen” so common at the conclusion of the prayer, which, as I learned from the composer in a conversation following the concert, initiates material woven throughout the second movement.
After the applause subsided, the President and Founder of the Fryderyk Chopin Society of Texas, Ms. Nina Drath came on stage once more to thank the artists and to announce that the soloists would perform two encores dedicated to the memory of the children of Uvalde, Texas.
Dr. Binienda performed Chopin’s ethereal Prelude no. 4 in e-minor (the same key as his concerto) with a poignancy I find impossible to put into words. Accompanied by Dr. Binienda, Mr. Pralitz performed four Polish folk melodies with a hushed beauty and serenity that concluded the concert in the sublime light of heaven.
The evening was a triumph of music and humanity. It will remain in our hearts forever.
May 30, 2022
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